10 years ago today, this news caused deep sadness throughout Russia.
“We have terrible news: Krutov is dead,” the Russian federation announced on June 6, 2012.
Russian sports fans and ice hockey fans in general didn’t need to be explained who was meant: Vladimir Krutov, who, together with his fellow strikers Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov, shaped an entire era of Soviet ice hockey – but was remembered rather ingloriously in North America.
At just 52, the left winger died in hospital from internal bleeding from cirrhosis of the liver.
USA opponents in the Lake Placid Miracle
With their technical skills, their skating skills and blind understanding of the game, the KLM trio (also: “The Green Unit”, because of the color of their training shirts) was almost uncontrollable. Krutov was a two-time Olympic champion, five-time world champion and eleven-time Soviet champion with CSKA Moscow, the Central Sports Club of the Red Army.
During the Cold War, Krutov, Larionov and Makarov became legends on both sides of the Iron Curtain, here as heroes, there as seemingly invincible adversaries.
The young Krutov was also part of the Soviet team at the 1980 Olympics, which defeated the USA in the “Miracle on Ice“, the “Miracle of Lake Placid”. Krutov scored the 1-0 for the USSR, which then turned into a 4-3 for the Americans in the end.
Brilliant in the KLM series, a huge flop in the NHL
After glasnost, perestroika and the end of the system struggle at the time, Larionov and Makarov successfully opened a new chapter in the North American professional league NHL. Krutow also dared to jump across the pond in 1989, but his interlude with the Vancouver Canucks failed.
After just one season with 11 goals and 23 assists in 61 games, he was singled out as the most expensive flop in NHL history at the time. Krutov struggled with obesity and homesickness and was a shadow of himself.
“Kruts was a fish thrown out of his waters,” then-teammate Paul Reinhart recalled in the Vancouver Sun after Krutow’s death. “He never acclimated to the North American world.”
The then general manager Pat Quinn added that Krutow was a different type of person than Larionov, who also ended up with the Canucks: “Larionov was a very urban, urbane guy who spoke excellent English. Krutov came from a rural background, didn’t speak English well and was homesick straight away.” You “never really got to know him”.
Career as a coach came to an end
After leaving the NHL, Krutow worked in Europe, played for the Zurich Lions in Switzerland from 1990 to 1992 and finally moved to Sweden, where he ended his career in 1996.
Krutov, who had health problems at the end of his playing days and looked older than he was, became a coach at CSKA Moscow after his career, but withdrew from this job after a fainting spell. With his death eleven years later he left his son Alexei, 2011 winner of the Champions Hockey League with the ZSC Lions from Switzerland.
The death of Vladimir Krutov had to be announced by the association’s president, Vladislav Tretjak, who was once Krutov’s teammate for years as the legendary Sbornaja goalkeeper: “Millions of fans will remember his beautiful game,” he said.
A nice game, but in his case it didn’t survive the fall of the Soviet Union.